Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Agenda

Greg Jennett
Critical minerals production incentive tax, foreign investment in Australia’s resources sector, net zero emissions targets, carbon capture and storage.

GREG JENNETT: Also, on the matter of the Chinese Premier’s visit, this was among the topics that we took up with the Resources Minister Madeleine King, who joined us earlier from Perth after delivering a speech, I should say, on production subsidies for critical minerals firms. Madeleine King, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. Good to have you joining us from Perth. I think you were in Townsville last time we spoke. Now, you’ve given a speech to a room full of resources executives there in Perth about the budget’s critical minerals production tax incentive. I guess you’re trying to rally support for it. You stressed that these tax breaks should attract bipartisan support. Has any critical minerals firm or investor said to you since the budget that they wouldn’t invest in this $17 billion dollar scheme if it doesn’t attract enduring bipartisan support? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, thanks, Greg, and thanks for having me on today. Can I just say, I don’t really need to raise support for the critical minerals production incentive because I have support for it – the industry itself has helped design the production tax credit. We’ve worked on it for nearly a year. It has a lot of support in Western Australia and Queensland, I might add, the two states that will produce the bulk of their resources, but also the other states as well. So there’s already a lot of support for the production tax credits. Of course, Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor have chosen not to support it, and it’s a real shame, and I hope they reconsider, because it sends a message that the alternative government is not serious about developing the critical minerals and rare earths industry. The truth is, this Albanese Labor government is very serious about it. It’s a big undertaking. I’ve said before it’s literally a national mission to get the critical minerals and rare earths industry up and going so we can dovetail into important supply chains right around the world. 

GREG JENNETT: But you did say in the speech that you genuinely did not expect the federal coalition to land where it has on this. And again I’ll go back to the word “bipartisanship”. You kind of hanker for it. I know you say you don’t need support because you’ve built it anyway, but it does sound like a part of you still wants to bed this down with the coalition rather than any other party in the Senate. Is that true? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, I absolutely would prefer for Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor to reconsider their anti-Western Australian and anti-Queensland stance and back the critical minerals production tax incentive. I was surprised on the budget-in-reply night when they – actually, it was on budget night, wasn’t it, they really went out very quickly and, you know, shot this down in their inimitable negative way without really considering it. But I did think the next day they might read the policy, might understand it better, might understand that it’s $17 billion dollars over 14 years to grow a new resources sector in this country and reconsider their position. They have failed to do that. There is still a chance. There is still opportunities for them to back the resources sector, and I hope that they do do that. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. You also said in your speech that the Biden administration with which you have had dealings in October last year and in March of this year urged Australia to “protect its critical minerals and rare earths”. Now, protect has quite a laden meaning in the world of trade and investment. Protect from whom? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, it's about protecting supply chains and about securing supply chains. So what we know is that we have – we’re in a global competition for rare earths and critical minerals and the processed outcomes of those natural resources which this country holds so much of. So when I say “protect”, I mean about building our capability to process them and make sure we have that capacity to make that future here in Australia. So we do want to supply to our friends and neighbours. The US is a very important partner for Australia. And as we know, critical minerals and rare earths are vitally important for wind turbines, electric vehicles, but they’re also really important for defence applications. And so it becomes a matter of national security to make sure we make these things here and we make them so that we can work with our international partners. 

GREG JENNETT: I ask that question, the previous question, Madeleine, because we are expecting formal confirmation soon that the Chinese Premier Li Qiang will visit Australia after New Zealand with a side leg to Perth. Now, whether you get to speak to him or not, he will no doubt ask for what Beijing has asked for from Australia for many years now – that is for more open access to Australian investments. Will you or anyone in the government tell him that that is not happening – in fact, quite the contrary; foreign investment rules are being tightened here? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, the Foreign Investment Review Board is a really important institution for this country, and having its oversight of foreign investment from any country whatsoever is really important so that we have social acceptance of the need for foreign investment so that the community can have confidence that the investment has some oversight over it. And so without the foreign Investment Review Board there can be difficulties in trusting that international investment which has built this country. The Chinese have invested in our resources sector for many years. You think back to Bob Hawke standing with the then Premier of China out at Mt Channar to develop the Rio Tinto iron ore project – really important moments have included investment from China, but just as resources industry has benefitted from investment from Japan and also South Korea and the US and the UK even. So all international investment is important, and the FIRB has a really important role to do in that whole process. 

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, well, we may not have much visibility on all the discussions with the Premier. No doubt foreign investment will come up. Thank you for addressing that, Madeleine King. Now, very explicitly from Peter Dutton’s own mouth today we’ve had confirmation that the coalition will be abandoning the government’s 2030 target because it says it’s unachievable. In the interim – well, I’ll get a general reaction from you first of all on that because Peter Dutton has explicitly confirmed this in a doorstop. I do have a further question about progress towards your targets, but what should flow from this announcement? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, well, there’s no end to what’s unachievable for the Liberal Party of his country and for Peter Dutton. And that’s a really sad state of affairs for the Liberal Party in this country and the wider coalition. He underestimates the ability of the Australian people in my view. He doesn’t think we can achieve a critical minerals and rare earths industry, as he is not backing the production tax credit. So my reaction to that is, of course, one of disappointment but also, you know, it’s so counterproductive to the progress of this country and how our country can actively participate in a decarbonised global economy, let alone just decarbonising our own economy. We have a really important role to step up globally in net zero discussions but also literally making the things that will get the world to a net zero position. And by walking out on these targets, showing a distinct lack of ambition for this country, Peter Dutton is abandoning that. 

GREG JENNETT: All right, well, I’m interested in the role of carbon capture and storage here, Madeleine King, especially in the Great Artesian Basin. You will recall when you were in Rockhampton we did discussions this and we were told by other ministers present there in Beef Week that it was a concern in Queensland. The Future Gas Strategy had most of the Great Artesian Basin mapped as “highly suitable” for CCS. Now that the Queensland portion of the Great Artesian Basin will under state law forever ban CCS, will this impair the development of that technology under federal policy? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, well, I want to be clear that state governments can make these choices, and I have no objection to that. Carbon capture use and storage is just one of the means by which we can seek to decarbonise our economy. It’s far from the only one, but as the International Energy Agency has said and as the International Panel on Climate Change has said, we won’t reach net zero without carbon capture and storage. Now, the federal scientific institutions do an overlay of the whole country and look at the prospects for CCS and then it’s up to state governments to, of course, you know, look at other community factors in their decision-making process. 

GREG JENNETT: But you’ve just lost a very large tract there haven’t you, with this announcement from Queensland? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: We haven’t – there are significant alternatives to CCS. And I want to add that they’re still being explored as well. This – although there are 9 million tonnes of CO2 stored off Barrow Island, we know that for this technology to be successful the industry needs to get more runs on the board on CCS. So there is a great deal of potential in offshore jurisdictions for CCS, and we’ve got companies working on that right now through our offshore greenhouse gas storage acreage releases. I’m just simply not going to pick a fight with state governments over this because I respect their connection to their state and to the communities within them. 

GREG JENNETT: But you could end up with a situation, couldn’t you, where other states follow suit as Queensland has and suddenly your onshore options are extremely limited? 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, that may be with the case but fortunately, of course, we have extensive offshore options. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. Madeleine King, thank you for that. I’m sure we’ll be coming back to this and other matters when next we speak. Always great to have you on the program. 

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Thanks so much, Greg. Appreciate that.